Last night addmanrcace and I went and saw Mamoru Hosoda‘s newest film The Boy and the Beast. So naturally we want to give the internet our own opinions on this movies qualities and its missteps. After all, part of the fun of watching anime is then getting to argue about how good or bad the show/movie you just watched was. So, please enjoy reading our *The Boy and the Beast *review!
The Boy and the Beast Review
The Boy and the Beast was a great, heartwarming story at its best, and a convoluted mess of intertwining plots at its worst. I’ll start off with this: the movie was great to watch. Hosoda knows very well how to direct compelling films that can play with your emotions. He did well focusing on love in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time; and with family and acceptance in Summer Wars; and with parenting and personal identity in Wolf Children (which is also my favorite movie, ever). In The Boy and the Beast, though, it felt as though Hosoda was trying to combine all of these concepts into one movie. It has aspects of each film: a love interest, family problems, learning to be accepted, and identity. The fact that he was able to include so much, and have each part be apparent is really impressive. What’s even more impressive is that each aspect is done very well, but the issue that arises is that they don’t work very well together.
The overall overview of the film is fairly straightforward. In the human world we have an orphaned nine year old kid named Ren who is living on the streets and is very disgruntled about the way his life has been up to this point. He has a vendetta against pretty much everyone and tries to avoid the police who would return him to his guardians. Flip to the beast world and the old Lord of the land is ascending to Godhood so a new lord must be selected. The contest for lord selection is between the charismatic favorite, Iozen, and the hot-headed loner, Kumatetsu. Iozen has a lot of students, while no one can last more than a month training under Kumatetsu, whose short temper makes him a poor teacher. Anyways, one night, Kumatetsu is traveling through the human world and comes across Ren, and demands that Ren becomes his student. Naturally, Ren, who also has a short temper refuses but follows them into the beast world anyways. The story then blooms into following Ren’s relationship with Kumatetsu, and with the other beasts and humans around him.
The story in itself is Ren’s coming of age story and a story of Ren’s self-discovery of who he is and what it means to be human. However, the story also tries to focus on the growth of Kumatetsu as a teacher and a friend. Seems simple enough, but this is where the plot starts to get muddled up. This movie was full of great story concepts and ideas, and at least for the first hour of the movie, I was sitting there, first curious to see where the movie was going to take me, and then apprehensive about the number of plot-lines being opened up in the film. No single plot line in this movie was a bad idea; however, they seemed to get all tangled up when the plot, in its entirety, was fused together. It felt like the film tried too hard to be too many things, particularly with the human world in the film. It stretched itself too thin with the level of character development that it tried to accomplish, and so left me feeling empty in some regards to the story. That being said, it was still enjoyable and breathtaking in parts, but it also left me wanting more development despite to 2 hour run time.
Speaking of the 2 hour run time, there is a point, about 2/3 of the way through the film, that really felt like the climax of the movie. Then after this climax, something drastic happens and the story goes down another plot line that had been foreshadowed but not really developed, and suddenly the film seems to take another 20 minutes to wrap up. For moviegoers out there, I liken it to the final act in the second Jurassic Park movie where suddenly, when you think the movie might be wrapping up, a T-Rex storms through the mainland for another 15 minutes of the film. While The Boy and the Beast was nowhere near as bad as *The Lost World, *it still made the movie longer than I expected it to be. Movies can have two or three different parts that feel like the climax of the movie and still be great films, such as in The Dark Knight. Films can certainly have different story climaxes for different characters, which is what Mamoru Hosoda appeared to have wanted to accomplish in his newest film. However, doing so runs the risk of making the film feel unnecessarily drawn out, and unfortunately that somewhat befell The Boy and the Beast. I would like to stress that this wasn’t a serious issue to my viewing pleasure, but I did feel that it detracted from the overall potential and flow of the film.
Aside from some poor choices with the plot, The Boy and the Beast does a fantastic job at a lot of things. Namely, representing what it wants to represent. There are two worlds, the beast world and the human world. When our main character, Ren, is cast into the beast world more or less on accident he is completely taken aback. There is some really unique imagery involved. The beasts are depicted as civilized, while Ren crawls along the corners of the room and through the crowd like an animal.
To me, this was the perfect visual representation of how incredibly strange the world can seem to a child going through something completely new. Animals are generally familiar to children, as it is one of the first things most children learn about. For Ren, this familiarity is completely backwards; instead, he seems completely unfamiliar with himself, which begins opens up as the major plot. Hosoda said in an interview with Indiewire:
It struck me that when we read picture books to children, we parents, and people as a whole, do not appear in them very much, and that they are more constructed to be a world of children and animals. That got me thinking that before children live in the world of their parents and other people, they must learn the principles, truths, and important things they need to live in the world of animals, so I created the characters with an animal motif. – Mamoru Hosoda
Almost instantly, Ren loses his name (which is pretty significant in Japanese culture) and is given a new one, Kyuta, by his new, beast teacher, Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu is a candidate for becoming Lord of the beast world, but needs some extra recognition. He is known for not being able to keep pupils, or even just be a decent guy .Ren/Kyuta, at this point has no idea who he is or what he is doing, but neither does Kumatetsu. And the movie seems to reiterate to both of them that there is nothing wrong with that. Over time, they learn from each other. Kyuta really starts to discover himself. Then, almost as surprisingly as he is thrust into the beast world, more plots are developed. It really comes out of nowhere, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing if they cooperated with the current plot, but they didn’t. Almost instantly, Kyuta/Ren is faced with several very large decisions about his own life. These decisions seem to be downplayed quite a bit though, which adds to the slight distaste of them occurring in the first place.
When we are finally returned to the original plot, and Kumatetsu is about to show off his growth, guess what happens? Another plot is opened up in a big way. This was the point at which I knew it was issue. I was fine with it, but it really underplayed what could have been the best the movie had to offer. In the end, we see growth in all aspects for Ren, and growth in Kumatetsu, which was really nice. Everything did untangle at the end, and form into a neat ball of good stories, but the path there was hectic at best.## Art/Music
The animation and art in the movie was brilliant. The setting, creature designs, and backdrops were well fleshed out and gorgeous to look at. The music in this film was composed by Takagi Masakatsu, the same composer who created the critically acclaimed score for Wolf Children, and once again he did not disappoint. The music in the film helped to capture the various tones and personas of the world and the situations its characters found themselves in perfectly. Full of emotion, bravado, and grace, the score assisted tremendously in ensnaring the viewer into the world of The Boy and the Beast. The Japanese voice acting was also well done. While I’m no professional on Japanese voice acting, I felt that all the voices’ fit their characters, and the actors did a good job of conveying the emotions of their characters. As for the dub, I have not seen it, so can’t speak on that particular subject.
Hosoda has a really unique animation style; a style that is most similar to Ghibli, but still unique in its own way. It never ceases to amaze me, *The Boy and the Beast *really wows with stunning visuals, animation, sound design, soundtrack, and voice acting. He was able to expertly mix abstraction with realism and beasts with people. It was incredible to watch, there really isn’t a lot like it. Not only did it look good, the animation was superb. Subtle movements, deliberate movements, group movements… Hosoda captures it all, even making it part of the plot. As Krogoth22 said, the score was nearly perfect for the film. Needless to say, in this aspect, there were no complaints.
I liken this film to another of Mamoru Hosoda’s films, Wolf Children. Wolf Children focused successfully on the different life style choices of its three protagonists, growing up in the natural world. In relation to this, The Boy and the Beast decided to focus on one person’s life decisions, splitting his choices between the human and the beast world. Unfortunately for the film, the world building of both worlds, and the duo story arch that took place because of them, felt like slightly too much to accomplish, and therefore, character interactions and relationships felt rushed and lacking in parts. This isn’t to say the film wasn’t good. Far from it. The plot, despite our critiques to it, was still engaging, and the music, art, and animation was excellent and memorable. Some of the character development was well done, while other characters fell by the wayside, despite their importance to the story. By no means was it a film without flaws, but it was still an enjoyable experience that we would be willing to view again. Therefore, we happily give The Boy and the Beast an 8/10 and definitely recommend watching it in theaters if you are able to.